• Newsletter Issue #447

    June 22nd, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    When you have a weekly radio show, it’s really hard to get a scoop. With but one deadline to meet, a lot of the stories we might unearth have already been written about elsewhere. One possible exception is the news of a new Mac security exploit, details of which were heard on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Author and commentator Kirk McElhearn was asked to appear almost at the last minute, and we agreed to record the interview on Thursday morning, the day of the show.

    Just about an hour before the session, Kirk sent me an instant message that he had been assembling information about a script-based security exploit, easily triggered by a simple Terminal command, which could cause havoc on your Mac if it was allowed to run loose. Even before the rest of the tech media had this story, we had the interview “in the can,” complete with details on how to reproduce the exploit, and a simple method to protect yourself.

    This was an episode where I spent a lot of time talking to software companies, something we don’t do near as often as we should. So, for example, Patrick Nugent, of Roxio, Toast 9’s Product Manager, was on hand to discuss the latest version of this award-winning optical disc burning application. We also presented details on how Speed Download, a shareware application, can put your downloads on steroids, with Johnny Capitosto of Yazsoft.

    Do you remember Bugdom and Nanosaur? Well, the head of the company behind these popular games, Brian Greenstone, of Pangea Software, now has an award-winning iPhones game waiting in the wings for July introduction. He talked about that and the history of this tiny company with a huge presence.

    In another segment on the show, we brought on Stephen Becker of Macease to present information about his company’s newest print enhancement utilities.

    Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, Dr. Steven Greer returns to The Paracast to talk about The Orion Project, an organization researching “free energy” and his UFO movement, The Disclosure Project. Also participating will be Jeremy Vaeni, and you can bet there will be fireworks!

    And don’t miss a special 15-minute no-holds-barred wrap-up session at the conclusion of this interview featuring The Paracast crew.

    Coming June 29: Stanton T. Friedman visits The Paracast to talk about his new book, “Flying Saucers and Science.”

    IS IT TIME TO STOP TALKING ABOUT SNOW LEOPARD?

    Any time Apple has a new operating system under development, you can bet there will be plenty of speculation, not to mention a wide range of hopes and dreams about the shape of the finished product. But Snow Leopard is a different breed of cat, if you’ll excuse the lame pun. You see, it’s supposed to be largely a performance enhancement project, with few compelling new features.

    In fact, the only new feature of note appears to be enhanced Microsoft Exchange support, which will only appeal to the subset of Mac users who require that capability to hook into their office email networks. For the rest of us, it will mean absolutely nothing. Of course, it will help Microsoft sell more of those uber-expensive Exchange licenses, and they could always use the extra cash, in case they want to make another bid for Yahoo.

    When it comes to those ubiquitous reports about Safari 4, even if they are correct, there’s nothing to indicate that the next version of Apple’s browser will be restricted to Snow Leopard, and won’t be available for Leopard and even Windows users for that matter. Since Apple has expanded Safari’s support to two platforms, it doesn’t make any sense that they’d build a version that would only run on 10.6.

    So let’s set that aside for now and get on with issues that only relate to 10.6 and its promise and potential.

    Without gee-whiz desktop features to lust for, just what value would Snow Leopard offer to the strictly Intel user base that will evidently be eligible for the upgrade when it appears in 2009?

    Actually, just having a smaller footprint will be a blessing, since, even with a quick broadband connection, it can take a while to retrieve those 450MB system updates, and those who are bandwidth challenged are really feeling the pain. How much code can be trimmed by removing PowerPC support, however, is an open question. It’s probably not as much as you might expect, but that doesn’t mean Apple hasn’t found other ways to reduce the code base isignificantly.

    One area that intrigues me a lot is improved support for multicore Macs, which means all Intel-based models except for a small number of single core Mac minis. Multicore is the solution to those wayward attempts to boost clock speed that only resulted in hotter machines. Compare, for example, a 3GHz Pentium 4 with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo and you’ll see how the latter smokes the former and then some in any reasonable system or application benchmark. The Pentium 4 only smokes if you want to fry an egg.

    As many of you know, I recently acquired an 8-core Mac Pro, but I often wonder whether all that processor horsepower is doing me any good. You see, there are few applications that are designed to exploit such capabilities.

    Take the audio application I use for post-production on the radio shows, the otherwise excellent Bias Peak Pro 6. As a show is streamed online, QuickTime Broadcaster creates a hinted MP4 file that’s used for listening to the show later on-demand. So when you click on the QuickTime Player button on either show site, it starts to play, and you can scroll to any point in the show and have it pick up with just a few seconds of “rebuffering.”

    The Podcast version is simply an MP3 copy, converted via Peak Pro. Unfortunately, the process can take an undue amount of time because the application is only using a single processor for its rendering. Not too efficient, right? In fairness to the people at Bias, they are using the open source Lame MP3 library for the file conversion process, so maybe there’s not much they can do about it.

    But if Apple provides superior tools to help developers deliver more efficient multicore processor support, maybe we’ll see more applications come around to make those expensive chips do more work for us.

    Another feature with a lot of potential significance is OpenCL, which allows the operating system to offload processing chores to the graphic chips. Working together with multicore processors that are getting their fare share of the workload, it means that those lengthy rendering operations will speed up tremendously. Converting a file to MP3, with the appropriate tags, can perhaps be done in one minute instead of eight.

    That’s definitely something to crow about.

    The other compelling feature in the short list is improved 64-bit support, which means when you’re ready to put 6TB of memory in your new Mac, the operating system will be ready. But don’t laugh! Remember when Bill Gates, notorious for making predictions that never come true, claimed we’d never need more than 640K of RAM? Remember when 8MB seemed an extravagance?

    What Apple is doing here is preparing for a future where processors with have 16 or 32 cores, and where huge memory resources will be available to push tremendous amounts of data at unheard of rates. It may not help you browse the Internet any faster, but imagine performing a 3D rendering operation and doing it in minutes rather than hours. What about human gene mapping and developing the next great vaccine to treat a condition that was once fatal?

    Or, perhaps, building the technology to send humankind to Mars and perhaps to the stars within our lifetimes?

    All this may seem to be nothing more than a silly dream now. But Apple certainly has the future in mind in architecting Snow Leopard to be a lean, mean and super powerful operating system that will pave the way for 10.7 and beyond.

    So, yes, it is something to talk about. And don’t be surprised if Apple does relent a little bit and add a few whizzy features to the mix before Snow Leopard is released, to justify that possible $129 purchase price. But even if the only visible new feature is Exchange support, it’ll still be worth the money.

    THE WORST ISP ON THE PLANET?

    So a relative calls me the other day and asks for help to set up his broadband Internet. Since he lives in an apartment complex in Phoenix, he is locked into the company the management firm contracted with, which in this case is Qwest, the beleaguered local phone company.

    He didn’t need the utmost in speed. Just something fast enough for his mundane online requirements, so he selected Qwest Connect Platinum with Windows Live. Windows Live? Yes, Qwest is in partnership with Microsoft for their broadband service.

    At $36.99, with advertised download speeds of up to 7 megabits, it seems a decent deal for DSL, and the modem supports wireless connections. Other than Microsoft’s involvement in this venture, it seemed a promising package, and it supposedly came with a QuickConnect feature that allowed for easy setup even on a Mac.

    Or at least that’s what they claimed.

    The facts proved otherwise. Everything began to go download when the SuperDrive on the relative’s vintage PowerBook G4 (circa 2004) failed. We’d had to do the setup manually, and here’s where Qwest made the process insanely complicated.

    After doing the hookup in accordance with the printed instructions — which didn’t mention anything about a wireless configuration — I noticed that the DSL light on the modem kept flickering. It’s supposed to be solid when a proper connection is achieved.

    So I had the relative call the Qwest tech support number that came with the flimsy documentation. As I looked over the setup more carefully, I heard him yell “broadband” in a loud voice, over and over again, followed by “Internet.” Seems Qwest’s voice recognition system evidently doesn’t like New York accents.

    When he finally got through, he was told by the offshore support person to dial another number.

    In all, he had to make six phone calls, and endure several transfers to reach someone who spoke ordinary English and was evidently trained to provide broadband support.

    I took over the call. Over the next few minutes, I was guided through the process of entering an undocumented username and password into the DSL modem. When I asked about the wireless configuration, he said that had already been done, and I was to use the same password. But when I checked, I found that the largely insecure WEP password encryption scheme had been selected by default, but when I mentioned I was switching to WPA2, a far more robust security scheme, he became uppity and began to say I also had to use a HEX-based password.

    Ignoring that nonsense, I went ahead and set up a regular alphanumeric password, after renaming the modem to something more friendly than the manufacturer’s name (2Wire), and he grudgingly guided me to an online setup site that would supposedly let us complete the installation process.

    Unfortunately, the QuickConnect page kept timing out in Safari, but it worked fine in Firefox. Thank heavens I didn’t need Internet Explorer, which would have certainly indicated a clearly destructive act on Microsoft’s part, since this service should be platform-agnostic.

    Once I completed the setup routine, there was still another screen from which I could select an email username and password. However, there was nothing in any of the online instructions to indicate the standard POP3 setup information for a regular email client, just a link to Windows Live Hotmail. This is, as you might imagine, a pathetic move, but it gets worse.

    I took a cursory look at the site, and all the search queries about the proper email setup delivered incorrect results. No wonder Microsoft’s online search initiative is failing, and buying Yahoo would have only made matters worse.

    In the end, I found a live chat person who, after admonishing me that Apple Mail wasn’t supported, gave me the proper settings. The final obstacle resulted from the brain-dead spam filter in Windows Live, where I had to put my own email address in the “whitelist” for it to escape the Junk folder. I loosened the spam settings, with the expectation that Mail would capture the balance.

    Yes, leave it to Microsoft and an incompetent telecom company to pool their efforts to deliver a perfectly awful support and setup experience. If you have a choice in your city, run as fast as you can away from Qwest.

    Fortunately, I have Cox in my neighborhood. The relative wasn’t so lucky, but if he ever moves into an area where Qwest isn’t the lone option, you can bet he’ll cancel that account pronto!

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    19 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #447”

    1. Apartment complex lock-in arrangements are bad, bad, bad.

    2. Apartment complex lock-in arrangements are bad, bad, bad.

      I would never live in a place with that sort of arrangement, but it wasn’t a consideration for my relative at the time. He expects to be in his own home within a year.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Dave says:

      Qwest is my DSL provider, but my ISP is FastQ Communications here in Phoenix. I’ve had one problem in about four years, and it was solved quickly. Maybe my experience isn’t typical, but I’m a happy Qwest customer at this point.

    4. Qwest is my DSL provider, but my ISP is FastQ Communications here in Phoenix. I’ve had one problem in about four years, and it was solved quickly. Maybe my experience isn’t typical, but I’m a happy Qwest customer at this point.

      FastQ is serving as your intermediary there, so you don’t have to interact with Qwest, except for other services, right?

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Dave says:

      FastQ is serving as your intermediary there, so you don’t have to interact with Qwest, except for other services, right?

      Peace,
      Gene

      Well, yes and no. As best I can remember, I did call FastQ first, but they couldn’t resolve it so I did have to call Qwest. But if I had had a problem getting Qwest to resolve the issue, FastQ would have stepped in to help me deal with them.

    6. Chuck says:

      Gene,
      I was recently helping a friend of mine who was having a similar issue. After I read your article I realized he had the same provider! His modem is a 2Wire also. Wireless hasn’t worked in months. The light flickers on the modem. It says he is connected but then it disconnects and reconnects every few seconds. Email is horrible.

      I will tell him immediately to move to another provider. TW Road Runner is the largest service here in central Ohio and I have no issues with them. Thanks for the info.

    7. Dana Sutton says:

      Something I don’t quite understand. Launch Activity Monitor, set it to monitor CPU activity. Then do anything else you want on your Mac, using any program except than Photoshop or another of the very few ones already optimized for multiprocessing. Notice that all of your processors will be put to work (look at the little green squares, ignore the red ones). To be sure, they aren’t working very hard, that would only happen in an optimized program. But why are they working at all? Shouldn’t the entire workload be carried by a single processor? This, I am sure, is very low-level and inefficient stuff, and there’s plenty of room for optimization, so Snow Leopard will be a big step forward. But something, obviously, is already going on. What?

    8. System-related functions may be spread across processors. But I’m concerned about the applications themselves. It’s not that I suffer much to wait a few extra minutes to convert those QuickTime MP4 files to MP3, but I hate to see those powerful processors napping. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    9. Dana Sutton says:

      “System-related functions may be spread across processors.” No, these are represented by the little red squares shown by Activity Monitor. I’m more interested in the green squares because they are evidently application-related (and often are simultaneously distributed over two or more processors).

    10. “System-related functions may be spread across processors.” No, these are represented by the little red squares shown by Activity Monitor. I’m more interested in the green squares because they are evidently application-related (and often are simultaneously distributed over two or more processors).

      I suppose it’s good to know that at least some apps are doing the right thing, even if only in small parts.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. Paul says:

      Gene,

      You make a great point in the article about applications not taking full use of a computers power. I have a Dual Processor PowerMac G5 and recently saw a great deal on RAM. I already had 2.5 GB in it but I do very large banner designs in Photoshop so I figured what the heck I will fill up the remaining slots. I upped it to 6.5 GB of RAM then went into the Photoshop performance preference and to the memory usage that allows you to set how much RAM Photoshop can use. Well, the way photoshop is designed it only lets you use a maximum of 3 GB. Correct me if I am wrong, but is this because it is a 32 bit app and not 64?

      If so, I heard that the next version of Photoshop is also not going to be 64 bit. It is a shame that these powerful Machines and OS’s are out there and software companies do not take advantage of them.

      Paul W.

    12. Part of the equation, my friend. The next version of Photoshop will not have 64-bit support for the Mac platform. Instead, it’ll only be offered for the broken 64-bit Windows OS.

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. Paul says:

      That is UNBELIEVABLE! Most graphic designers use Photoshop and most designers use Macs. What are they thinking. I added all this RAM and Photoshop is still not as fast as I would like it. (As a freelance designer the faster I work, the more I make, so speed is key.)

      Not to get off topic but it could be that I only have 50 BG left on my 160 GB drive and photoshop’s scratch disc is fighting with the other apps and the OS for it. I am going to put in a 500 GB drive to replace the 160. I will then use the 160 drive for photoshop and illustrators scratch disc. That should speed things up

      Paul
      (I am still spinning in the head about 64 bit only on windows machines!!!)

    14. There was a story about this a few weeks back, with Adobe saying that changes in the Mac OS didn’t give them enough time to complete the task for CS4. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t provide proper support for multicore and multiprocessors.

      Peace,
      Gene

    15. Paul says:

      Also, they should have made CS3 64 bit. When the PowerMac G5’s first came out all the Apple ads and marketing was 64 bit. Now years later hardly any apps still take advantage of it.

      Paul

    16. Also, they should have made CS3 64 bit. When the PowerMac G5’s first came out all the Apple ads and marketing was 64 bit. Now years later hardly any apps still take advantage of it.

      Paul

      Moving to Universal binaries didn’t help, however. Adobe also uses its own customized development environment, but I won’t make excuses for them. I can always ask David Biedny to do a proper rant about it. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    17. Paul says:

      >I can always ask David Biedny to do a proper rant about it.

      That would be a pretty heated rant I bet:))

    18. >I can always ask David Biedny to do a proper rant about it.

      That would be a pretty heated rant I bet:))

      Part of the problem, however, is that David is a beta tester for Photoshop, and thus under NDA. So he’s going to have a problem talking about this specific subject. But there’s plenty for him to stew over.

      Peace,
      Gene

    19. Thomas says:

      I thought the FCC had ruled that apartment complex lock-ins with telcos aren’t permitted?

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